American Ex-Prisoners of War
A not-for-profit, Congressionally-chartered veterans’ service organization advocating for former prisoners of war and their families.

Established April 14, 1942.

National Headquarters PO Box 3444 Arlington,TX 76007-3444 817-649-2979 Fax 817-649-0109
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4,750 new POW names addded to the AXPOW roster database on Jan. 29. Click here

USS Canopus, Star of the Sea
Battle ribbons awarded U.S.S Canopus
Canopus Awards, Citations and Campaign Ribbons
Top Row - Combat Action Ribbon (retroactive - Bataan) - Yangtze Service Medal
Second Row - China Service Medal - American Defense Medal (with Fleet clasp) - Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (1)
Third Row - World War II Victory Medal - Philippines Presidential Unit Citation - Philippine Defense Medal
"Submarines are perceived, in popular romantic conceit, as solitary predators that prowl the seas unbounded by time and geography.

In fact they often run in packs, and more often than not those packs are highly dependent on a den mother. No matter where or how far they roam, especially in wartime, subs don't stray too far from the "Mother Ship" and never for too long.

They return for all the reasons anyone goes home to mom: for succor, nourishment, replenishment and, often enough, repair.

Regardless of the trouble a sub got into or whatever damage it sustained, the mother's job was to make everything all right again, sometimes with remedies bordering on magical. In addition to stores of supplies and munitions, these service ships carried large inventories of parts and materials, and could fix anything. What they didn't have in stock they could make in one of several on-board machine shops.

The USS Canopus was one of those ships, in Navy argot a "Sub Tender."

She was named for the brightest star in the southern constellation of Carina and the second-brightest star in the nighttime sky. The name itself comes from the mythical figure Canopus, navigator for Menelaus, king of Sparta.

She didn't start out as a sub tender. She didn't even start out as Canopus. And she was already long in the tooth when she took her star turn in the Bay of Manila in the early, harrowing days of World War II.

She was launched as a passenger liner, the SS Santa Leonora, in 1919 by the New York Shipbuilding Company for W. R. Grace and Co. But her future never lay with the leisure class.

She was taken over by the Navy shortly after completion in July 1919 and placed in commission as USS Santa Leonora. She was a trans-Atlantic troop transport briefly but then was transferred over to the Army in September 1919.

"Another fire party carried hoses through choking smoke in the compartments near the magazines, pulling the wounded away from blasted areas.

A Shipfitter donned the one breathing apparatus outfit undamaged by the bomb's detonation and carried a fire hose down to the magazines, backed by shipmates working in relays, each of which stayed as long as men could stand the fumes.

"The ship's Chaplain led a rescue group into the engine room, where fragments and escaping steam had caused the most casualties, administering the last rites to dying men and helping to evacuate the injured.

Canopus with Sub Division 17 alongside.
USS Canopus (AS-9) in Apra Harbor, Guam, with Submarine Division 17 alongside, October 29, 1924 (US Navy photo).

"The Chief Machinist Mate shut off the steam at the boilers, saving men from being scalded to death, and then helped the wounded to safety. He was later found wandering around the ship in a daze, with no recollection of what happened after the blast."

It took four hours to get all the fires out. In a tour of the magazines several crushed and exploded powder charges were found: unsettling testimony to how close to complete destruction the ship, and all on board, had come.

"Only a miracle prevented a general magazine explosion," Capt. Sackett wrote, "but miracles do happen. Bomb fragments had severed several pipes near the magazines, which released floods of steam and water that kept fire away from the rest of the powder."

The Canopus was seaworthy again in just a few days, although a good deal of ammunition had been lost when the magazines were flooded, and several store rooms were severely damaged by the explosions.

Between wars: USS Canopus anchored off Shanghai in the 1930s. (US Navy photo)

Canopus was then reacquired by the Navy in 1921 and converted, in Boston, to a submarine tender, a role the fates had seemingly singled her out for. Only not in Boston.

She was outfitted with machine shops, foundries, storerooms, cabins and living spaces for her crews and, in the words of her skipper, "a few guns as a concession to the fact that she was now a man-of-war": The USS Canopus.

Canopus by the Numbers:
Displacement 5,975 tons
Length 373ft, 8 in.
Beam 51 ft., 6 in.
Draft 16 ft., 4 in.
Speed (rated) 13.0 kts
Compliment 314

Canopus reported to Submarine Force, Atlantic Fleet, and remained at Boston for several years. She sailed for duty with the Asiatic Fleet in September 1924.

She and her squadron of submarines arrived in the Philippines on November 4, 1924 and began regular service in Manila Bay, with occasional training cruises to Chinese and Japanese ports, and to the British and French colonies. Between 1927 and 1931, the tender was flagship of submarine divisions in the Asiatic Fleet.

On December 7, 1941, Canopus, then tender to Submarine Squadron 20, lay at Cavite Navy Yard finishing up an extensive overhaul. (Cavite was the US Navy's only ship repair facility in the western Pacific before World War II.) Anti-aircraft machine guns had been added to her armament, and light armor had been fitted around exposed positions, which would shortly prove useful in warding off bomb fragments.

Nine hours after their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces began a steady aerial assault on the Philippines. At dawn the next day, the Canopus was ordered alongside the docks in Manila's chief port.

If she should be sunk there the water would be shallow enough that the ship would rest mostly above water. Stores, torpedoes, and equipment could be salvaged. In the days that followed, Canopus and crew worked around the clock repairing ships damaged in the daily air raids. This in addition to tending to their brood of submarines at sea.

The Japanese invasion force attacking the Philippines was actually outnumbered 3 to 2, but they were crack troops, Japan's best trained and most seasoned. Plus, they had the support of a fully functioning navy and air force which, after attacks on Pearl and Clark and Nichols airfields in the Philippines, the Allies did not.

The ship's commanding officer, Capt. E.L. Sackett, authored an account of Canopus's Philippines exploits to be distributed to relatives of the ship's officers and men. In it he described the steps the crew took to improve their chances of survival against the relentless Japanese bombing sorties against the port.

"The superstructure of the Canopus was painted to match the color of the docks alongside, and camouflage nets were spread overhead in an effort to deceive the Japs as long as possible as to our identity. The more exposed fuel tanks were emptied and filled with water to reduce the danger of a disastrous fire which might make it impossible to save the ship if the oil were touched off by a bomb."

With little alternative other than a rearguard action, General Douglas MacArthur, consolidated all of his Luzon-based units on the Bataan Peninsula. On Christmas Day, Canopus sailed southwest to the relative safety of Mariveles Bay at the tip of Bataan island, close to the Allied guns of Corregidor.

Nonetheless, it was there on December 29, 1941 that Canopus suffered her first direct bomb hit, a 500-pound armor-piercing ordnance that penetrated all her decks, exploding on the propeller shaft housing amd killing six sailors.

Capt. Sackett's account details the crew's response to the hit.

"The Executive officer organized one party on deck to attack the blaze from above. They directed their hose streams down the hatches, unmindful of ominous detonations below which told them magazines might go at any moment.

"A Gunner's Mate climbed down a smoke-filled ammunition trunk with a hose in an effort to get at the blaze from below. When the fire pumps failed, bucket brigades carried on the battle."

Her submarines had by then slipped away from Bataan along with any remaining large fighting vessels, but the Canopus found plenty of local orphans to administer to. Small Navy ships needed constant repairs as well as both new and fabricated parts. Word got around to nearby Army and Air Force units, as well, that the Canopus's well-equipped shops could accomplish miracles of improvisation.

Her launches were converted into miniature gunboats, for attacking Japanese troops as they moved south near the shore. The ship and crew were playing a new role in a new mission—to hold Bataan as long as possible.

The Canopus received a second direct bomb hit on January 1, 1942 . This time a fragmentation bomb exploded near the top of the towering smokestack resulting in substantial damage to the ship and injuries to 16 men in the gun crews.

In need of a new strategy for surviving the steady Japanese aerial pounding, the crew came up with a plan to disguise the ship, making it look like an abandoned casualty of war. Meanwhile the ship hummed with activity by night.

Hiding in plain sight. After her second direct hit in the Bay of Mariveles, Canopus went undercover. Flooding the ballast tanks pitched the ship toward one side. Smudge pots of oily rags set afire in the holds sent up ribbons of black smoke. Black "bomb holes" were painted on the decks. Cargo booms were left draped in the water. The smokestack was already splintered from the bomb. By day Japanese reconnaissance flyovers saw an abandoned, burned out and listing hulk. After dark the hull was righted and the ship became an all-night machine shop turning out parts and making damaged ships seaworthy. With this ruse, the Canopus escaped attack for four months. (Drawing by Lt.(JG) Willard C. Johnson, LT. JG, Canopus crew member, interned after the fall of Corregidor in Japan, 1942-45).

Time took its inevitable toll, however, as the Japanese noose continued to tighten around the Philippines. Allied forces were running out of food, supplies, ammunition and everything else save the will to resist.

MacArthur and staff left Corregidor on March 11, under orders from the president, bound for Australia, to regroup and plan their return.

On April 9, Major General Edward P. King Jr. surrendered Bataan, and 78,000 troops (66,000 Filipinos and 12,000 Americans), the largest such contingent of U.S. soldiers ever, were taken captive by the Japanese.

Upon the surrender, Canopus was ordered scuttled in Mariveles Bay, to deny her use to the enemy. That night, she was backed off into deep water, and the veteran ship ended a lifetime of service to the Navy on her own terms.

Some crew members who were present swore she'd seemed almost reluctant to go, but all could take pride in the fact that the Japanese had never been able to knock her out. She sailed out under her own power, and she was laid to her final rest by the hands of sailors she had served so faithfully.

May 6: Corregidor surrendered. Fifteen thousand more Americans and Filipinos were captured, and the Philippines were lost.

June 4-9, 1942: In the Battle of Midway—only six months after Pearl Harbor—a US Naval force defeated an attacking Japanese fleet, inflicting devastating damage that proved irreparable and turning the tide of the war at sea.

1942-44: In the space of two years, steady reversals in ground fighting in places like Guadalcanal, the Sullivan Islands, Iwo Jima and other beachheads across the Pacific would put the Imperial Forces into a defensive crouch from which they could not rise. Dreams of empire quickly fading, Japan was gradually reduced to fighting not to lose, and not succeeding at that.

October 20, 1944: A few hours after his troops landed, Gen. MacArthur waded ashore onto the Philippine island of Leyte, making good on his famous promise. Only one-third of the men MacArthur left behind in March 1942 survived to see his return.

221 of Canopus's crewmen were evacuated to Corregidor on February 28, 1942 where they served with the Marines 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions on beach defenses.

The final 327 crewmen were also evacuated to Corregidor and served in the 4th Marine Regiment's 4th Battalion Reserves (Provisional), which fought the final battle for the island fortress.

Nearly all of Canopus's crewmen were captured at Corregidor and interned as Japanese POWs, including 61 current or former AXPOW members.

All told, 212 Canopus crewmen were killed or listed as missing in action. The website On Eternal Patrol features personal memorial postings for each of those officers and men.

For the full text of Capt. E.L. Sackett's account of the USS Canopus's service in the Philippines: Click here.

posted 2/21/18

In Their Own Words ...
Another in a series of personal accounts by POWs of their last moments of freedom and the personal challenges of capture and captivity. These are stories drawn from biographies POWs either penned themselves or shared orally with family and friends who transcribed them for posterity. The voice and mood of these recollections understandably span a broad range of emotions. But each gives poignent testimony to the courage, resolve and indominable hope of the men and women who, in war, fell captive to enemy forces and were forced — in the face of deplorable deprivations — to fight for their country in totally new and unexpected ways.
Christmas in the Camp: 1944
Ernest G. Liner enlisted in the Air Force and was inducted at Fort Bragg, NC, reporting to Miami Beach, FL in November of 1943.

He and his fellow inductees lived in hotels and took basic training on a golf course and the beach. From there they went to Panama City for more training. Then to Mitchell Field, NY for crew assignment. Then to Charleston, SC to learn to fly together.

"I'd had to leave my girlfriend Franny in Baltimore for basic training," he recounted. "So I asked her to come to Charleston after basic and we'd get married. I rented a furnished room, a month ahead to hold it, and we got married June 3, 1944. When l I got leave, we went back to Baltimore together, but then I had to leave her again for Charleston.

Crew om tarmac

"Christmas time was coming, and one guy in our room suggested that we start saving our food for the holidays.

Then the idea came to us to make a cake for Christmas day. Each of us gave something from our parcels such as powdered milk, chocolate, sugar, or salt.

When Christmas day finally arrived we were ready to clebrate. We had lots of food and a big, beautiful Christmas cake.

Wedding Day June 3, 1944. Ft. Charleston AFB
Wedding Day June 3, 1944. Ft. Charleston AFB ( L to R ) Robert Marker, Ernest Liner, Francis, Julian Ford.

"From Charleston our crew went to Westover Field, Massachusetts and flew submarine patrol for two weeks. Then we were given a new plane of our own to take overseas. We left from Mitchell Field, New York and went to Bangor, Maine for supplies, then left the States for Newfoundland where we sat for about a week because of bad weather.

"We went on to the Azores when the weather finally broke, and gassed up for the flight to Africa. We landed in Marrakech, then on to Tunis, and from there we flew to Foggia, Italy where they took our plane. They gave us an old beaten up one in its place. Later we found out that this was customary; a new plane was given to a crew that was about finished and ready to go back to the United States

"We were assigned to an air base at Cherignola, Italy and given a six-man tent to sleep in at the edge of an almond orchard. At first we had a dirt floor, cots and candles for lights. We started improving the flooring and made some cabinets out of cardboard and rolled up the sides of the tent to let in cool air. After a week or two we were given one bulb for light. It got its power from a generator at the base.

"We started flying with other crews to learn how to fly in formation. Experienced pilots flew with us for a few days and then we were on our own to fly every day, weather permitting. We started flying actual combat missions on August 12, 1944.

"The targets in northern Italy were called "milk runs," more like training missions, but the Polesti targets were the worst in Europe for enemy flack and fighters. The Hungary targets were bad for fighters, but Blechammer, our target on August 22, was as bad as Polesti. We had to fight our way away from the target until the moment we had to parachute out of the plane.

"Before we got to the target we'd lost an engine due to flack (ground fire). We saw one plane blow up and two others take hits. On three engines, we could not keep up with the formation. After the bombs were dropped, we were attacked by four fighters, lost another engine and suffered other damage as well.

"One fighter came toward our tail, another from the side, and yet another from the underside. I shot the plane attacking our tail, and it exploded. The fighter on the side killed Tomlinson, our waist gunner, and hit Benetti, the ball turret gunner. That gave the German fighters two positions not covered.

"The next attack came from above. Our top-gunner, Peterson, and I both were shooting at him, and he was hit and bailed out. Then I realized we were going down fast and our radio was shot out. I got out of my turret and went up into the waist and put on my parachute.

Peterson came down into the waist with his parachute on, and I had to move Tomlinson's body from the escape door so we could get out. I opened the hatch and motioned for Peterson to go out, but he motioned for me to go! I realized that we had to get out, so I jumped. Peterson told me later, when he saw my chute open he jumped, too.

"As we were going down, we realized we were being shot at. A German fighter came straight toward me. We had heard about fighter pilots shooting at airmen in their chutes. But, at the last minute this one tipped his wing and came close enough for me to see him motion to me.

"I went down in the woods. The others were captured in an open field. I could not get my chute out of the trees, so I took off my flying suit and boots and left them in a stump hole. I crawled under some bushes and tried to collect my thoughts. I removed my escape kit and tried to determine where I was.

"I decided to move to a better location but had not gone but about ten steps when someone hollered and I looked to see a German soldier with a rifle pointed at me. He kept motioning for me to put my hands up. I could see he was as scared of me as I was of him. Another soldier then came up, and they searched me. They kept saying "pistols," I guess because they knew we were issued .45 pistols. I told them mine had gone down with the plane. I was always glad that I didn't wear it, because I might have tried to use it.

"We were taken to a small village about the size of Efland, North Carolina, and it had a jail. There I saw two of my crew members and four from another crew at the jail. We spent the night with bed bugs androaches. The next day we were moved through the village and were fortunate to have the German soldiers along to keep civilians off of us. They were throwing things, spitting and hollering "gangsters" at us. We understood why later on when we passed a hospital that had been bombed.

"We were put on a truck with eight others and transported to the city of Budapest. There we were given something to eat, the first food we'd had had since being shot down. We were questioned and our belts, shoelaces, rings, watches and everything we had in our pockets was taken from us.

"We found out later that we were in an old political prison. It was three stories high and was open in the center with walkways around each staircase. All of the cells were solitary cells about four feet by sixteen feet in size with no windows and one light bulb that burned all of the time.

Our comforts consisted of one cot, a door with a slot through which bowls of soup were given to us twice a day and one loaf of bread a day, and one bucket for a toilet. No one ever spoke.

"Enduring seven days of this, you did a great deal of thinking. I counted the bricks in that cell a thousand times, and I thought I would remember the number, but I don't. After seven days of silence I was taken to a German officer for questioning. We had been trained to give only our name, rank and serial number. I was then sent back to my cell for another seven days, followed by another trip for questioning.

"After a few days we were taken under heavy guard to a train station where we were put on those notorious, forty by eight, boxcars that were known all over Germany: forty men or eight horses.

"I think there must have been forty of us in the car when more men were brought in. It was too crowded to lie down, so we had to stand or sit. We were locked in our boxcar and in the next one were the guards with their dogs. We only had one bucket for a toilet for over forty men. Some men were sick and some were injured. We were on the train for two days before we were allowed to get out and given water and bread.

"At this point everyone was filthy and many had dysentery, still with only one bucket in the boxcar. We stopped in a large rail yard one night and the R.A.F. came over, dropping bombs. The guards left for shelters and we were left behind, locked in the boxcar. Luckily the bombs missed us.

They did tear up some of the rails further ahead. We stayed there another day, locked up. Finally, we started again, attached to another train. We started seeing lots of bomb damage to towns and bridges as we passed through Poland.

"After five days the train stopped. We were at a train station in a small town where there were guards with dogs to escort us on a one mile walk to our camp. By this time, we were in pitiful shape. The camp was still being built, but we were assigned to barracks with twenty-two men, all together in one room.

We had a spigot to wash up with and a latrine which had ten holes. Many times you didn't have time to wait. For that reason it was a very good thing our government sent lots of clothes and shoes to the camps.

"We had roll call twice a day, and were given soup and one-fourth of a loaf of sawdust bread a day.

Once in a while, we got Red Cross parcels, which were like Christmas to a child. We were each supposed to receive a package, but we usually had to divide one package four ways. They contained everything you needed for a week: canned cheese, canned meat, crackers, candy bars, chocolate, cigarettes, toilet paper (which was worth a fortune), a sewing kit, playing cards, biscuits, and writing paper.

"Cigarettes were often used as money; so many cigarettes for a candy bar, so many for a sweater, so many for socks and so many for a pencil. Many old prisoners were getting parcels from home that included clothes, food and cigarettes.

We received a variety of things from the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, but it was the food parcels that kept us alive. Many more men would have died had it not been for those food parcels.

"We had a number of POW's who went out of their minds and tried to climb the electric wire fences. Guards in the towers would shoot over their heads as a warning but always had to shoot them because they were so determined to try to escape.

"Men in another room had fermented sugar, raisins and other things to make alcohol, and we traded some of our cake for enough alcohol for all of us to have a couple of swigs. The alcohol was very potent, especially on our empty stomachs with that rich cake. Years later there an article about our cake appeared in The American Legion Magazine, December 1957.

"Other men had received musical instruments from home or were able to get the guards to get instruments for them. These musicians would get together and play. At Christmas the Germans allowed us to use a large hall and the men with instruments gave a wild party. You should have seen the crazy dancing that was done. Until the last song, "White Christmas," was played. After that each one of us went back to our room with tears rolling down our cheeks.

"We were getting war news from a small radio, the size of a pack of cigarettes, that had been smuggled in a piece at the time. We could receive the BBC once a day on a certain wavelength. One person listened, and told some other men who, in turn, told other men in each of the other barracks to spread the news of the day.

"We knew the war was about over and that the Russians were coming toward us. But, we did not know where or how fast until we started to hear big guns in the distance, getting louder. On February 5, 1945, word was sent around to get what you could carry and be prepared to move. Early the next morning, we were marched out the gate in groups of two hundred men, with one guard for every ten prisoners. With every twenty men there was a dog.

We went to a warehouse where Red Cross parcels had been hoarded by the thousand and were given all that we could carry. The snow was knee-deep, and the temperature was ten below zero.

"We walked about ten kilometers before we stopped for the night in a snow-covered open field. Every one of us was , hungry, thirsty and dead-tired. All that we had to eat or drink was the snow that we could pick up. Many, many nights during the march, we slept on the ground in the ice and snow. Peterson and I each had a blanket and a long Army overcoat made of heavy wool.

"We put one overcoat on the ground and covered up with the two blankets and the other overcoat. The blankets were thin like burlap and did not do much to keep us warm. We were not allowed to build a fire even if we had something that we could burn. One morning we awoke to find that someone had switched our top coat and exchanged it for a short one that only went to mid-calf. Our other one went down to my ankles, and was really warm.

"Not too long after we started on the march, I had my twenty-fourth birthday, on February 11, 1945. My good buddy Pete (Paul Peterson) presented me with a small piece of bread for my birthday gift. He had saved the bread for me from his small rations for a couple of days.

"The next morning we were still tired, had sore, blistered feet and were very hungry. All of us were cold, and some were sick. We had camped by a little stream which we drank from and used as a latrine. We were moved out and went to the road a short distance away and found that another group had used this stream ahead of us!

"We walked until almost dark when we reached a school where we had some protection from the outdoors. We had hoped to be able to keep warm inside, but our clothes, shoes and socks were soaking wet. We were warned by some of the older prisoners not to take off our shoes because our feet would swell and our shoes would shrink as they dried. So, we slept in our wet shoes.

"If we dared to take off our shoes for the night, we tied the strings together, and put them around our neck for safety. We could not march without shoes. We estimated that we had walked about sixteen kilometers. That night we could hear heavy guns, and British bombers came over and dropped bombs ahead of us.

"We started out again the next day. As we had been warned, some men could not get their shoes on because their shoes had shrunk. We were pushed again that day because the guards wanted to get further away from the Russians. Many more men began to drop out and we heard some shooting behind us. We felt that it was probably the guards carrying out their threats. We hardly stopped except maybe to let military traffic go by.

" The condition of the men continued to get worse. One night we were able to get into a big barn where we had hay and straw to lay in to keep warm and rest. That barn felt like a motel. We stayed over until the next day and then began another day of walking. We came to another prison camp which was used to get everyone together.

"There was every nationality you ever heard of. The French Moroccans had long black hair worn under a turban and they washed it every day under the spigot and took baths out in the open. When they went to the latrine, they carried a little pitcher with water, didn't use paper even if they had it, using instead their left hand. They then washed their left hand and did not use it to eat with.

"The young guards were taken away and replaced with old home guards. We actually felt sorry for them but we needed them to keep the civilians away from us. The home guards were getting desperate because they didn't want to be caught by the Russians. One day we were near an old mill sitting in the sun in a cemetery picking off body lice when we heard American bombers.

The bombers soon came into sight, straight toward us. They were flying low and we could see bomb doors open. We knew they were getting close to dropping bombs, so we took cover behind a rock wall. Each time a bomb exploded, the wall would start coming apart. It was a very close call for us. We later found out that they were bombing a bridge just beyond us.

"By then it was April and getting warmer. We did not have to walk as far, or fast, and found more schools and farms to sleep in. We began to hear more big guns behind us. On the night of April 24, 1945, we were in a big barn when we heard a terrible sound which turned out to be an American armored car coming to find out where we were.

"The next morning an American spotter plane came over very low, waving its wings back and forth. We were going toward the Rhine River and later saw two tanks and armored cars with American markings coming toward us. The Americans had stopped at Bitterfield on the Rhine River, waiting for the Russians to get there. We were told they were part of Patton's forward division.

We were liberated at Bitterfield on April 26, 1945. The Americans helped us cross the river on a temporary bridge because all of the bridges in the area had been blown up . Peterson and I were taken by a tank crew to a house that the Americans had taken. We were told to burn our clothes, which we gladly did.

We had not had a warm bath in two months, had worn the same shoes, had not had a haircut, and were in terrible condition. We both got into the largest bathtub I had ever seen, large enough to swim in. It was wonderful to be able to shave and put on clean clothes. Each of us was given a big glass of whiskey and all of the food we could eat. With full stomachs, we went to bed under a large feather blanket that made us feel like we had died and gone to heaven.

"We were trucked to the Hallie staging area and flown to Rheims. We then flew to La Harve on May 13, to Camp Lucky Strike, which had tents for all American POWs. We were fed around the clock and had egg nog between meals. After a few days you would not recognize your friends because they had clean clothes, haircuts, and gained a great deal of weight. Many men got sick from over-eating.

"By then the war was over, and we just had to wait for ships to come to take us home. Later we learned that they kept us longer so that we would gain some weight before we got home to our families. We boarded ships on June 5, and docked in New York on June 12. We were then taken to Camp Kilmer, NJ in preparation for going home. You were put in barracks according to the state you lived in.

"We were put on a train bound for Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and when we got there we were again examined and given new clothes and $50 to get home. I caught a bus to Fayetteville and then another to Hillsborough. At six o'clock on the morning of June 15, 1945, I walked to my Uncle Ewell's house and he took me home to Franny and the rest of the family. I was finally back home. And thankful."

"(This write-up by Sgt. Ernest G Liner was taken from the 459th Bombardment Group's website)

(Click here for Ernest "Gordon" Liner's full biography posting on this site.)

posted 12/23/17

At National World War II Memorial, Veterans Remember the Day It All Started

wreath-laying ceremony at National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.comemorating Pearl Harbor  Pearl Harbor.
Veterans of the Second World War gathered Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., for a wreath-laying ceremony held in remembrance of the attack on Pearl Harbor 76 year ago.

WASHINGTON — Twenty-one bells rang out Thursday at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, paying tribute to those who were killed at Pearl Harbor 76 years ago when the empire of Japan attacked an unsuspecting nation and kicked off America’s involvement in World War II.

Few of those who were at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, are still alive; only a handful were able to attend the memorial ceremony at which Washington Redskins president Bruce Allen and other dignitaries extolled their virtues and celebrated their heroism.

Not many of the veterans were able to walk unassisted around the monument’s perimeter as they placed wreaths at the foot of the inscription that reads “Here we mark the price of freedom.” Still, it’s an event that most said they’d attend again.

“I wish sometimes that I could live down here,” said retired Senior Master Sgt. Harry Allen about the monument. “I was here for the dedication, and I’ll come back every time.

A member of the military color guard passes by the Lincoln Memorial as the guard retires the colors toward the end of a wreath-laying ceremony held in Washington, D.C., as part of the remembrance for the 76th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Allen served in the Army during the war, and switched to the Air Force later on. On Thursday he was able to catch up with other vets. During and after the official ceremony, they grouped together, chatted and spent more than a little time talking to well-wishers, curious young people and folks just wanting to shake the hand of a bona fide war hero.

That interaction with the public is important to keeping the history of war fresh in people’s minds, said one veteran, and is a large part of why he shows up to these types of events.

“It’s a real pleasure to come out here and join them,” said retired Army Col. Frederick Clinton, who fought across the French and German fronts in 1944-1945.

Like many at the time, Clinton lied about his age to join the military. At 16, he was already working a full-time job repairing aircraft wings for the Navy. When the other young men in town began to join the fight, he knew he had to as well.

“War was going on, I wanted to do my part,” he said. That part extended past his initial enlistment — past World War II and into Korea, where he turned down a battlefield promotion since it hinged on him remaining in the infantry. He had had enough of that life, and became an adjutant general officer instead.

Like Allen, Clinton enjoyed attending the ceremony. It was somber, to be sure, but it was also a way for those being honored to connect with other veterans and to help keep the memory of those who died alive.

(Photo gallery of at Stars and Stripes website. Click here.)

posted 12/8/17

American Ex-Prisoners of War
Congressionally Chartered
David Eberly
Chief Executive Officer
A note to our readers:

At our last convention we could count the returnees and internees on one hand. These veterans served courageously in conflicts that are now simply chapters in the history books. Our heroes—soldiers, sailors, and airmen—are moving on, and their children and grandchildren are the new guardians of our freedom

The role that these POWs were called on to play, holding high the torch of liberty for our country and for the world, cannot be allowed to fade away. For our organization, now is the time to turn to the enduring task of keeping the memory alive, relevant and vital.

So here at AXPOW our mission is now moving from personal celebration to preservation of a legacy.

More than half of our active membership ranks are now Next of Kin members: surviving wives, sons, daughters, grandchildren and other relatives. With time their importance to the organization will only grow. We are tasking ourselves with serving our NOK members' needs by documenting family roots, keeping alive the traditions of POW remembrance and preserving POW histories, narratives and stories in readily accessible forms for future generations. And not just out of filial affection. The work our POWs did helped assure the lives and freedoms Americans still enjoy today. We must not forget what they did because we need to learn from it.

AXPOW has no plans to scale back its traditional roles in advocating, counseling and facilitating the efforts of POWs in obtaining medical and financial benefits they are entitled to. And we will continue to champion federal legislation that ensures veterans get the care and treatment they need.

Our website has proven a useful tool in pursuing these missions. But going forward this site is gradually giving less attention to organizational news, committees, officer assignments, peripheral service stories and the like and putting more emphasis on developing historical, biographical and contextual resources and feature stories that provide first-person testimony about what POWs endured in captivity and how they endured it.

  • We’ve built a searchable POW/NOK database where visitors can research records of family members and loved ones and where researchers and scholars can access details about the size, scope and context of the POW experience, as well as its meaning.
  • We've created a reference library of membership obituaries originally published in our organizational magazine, The Bulletin, with the immediate goal of extending it back to 2007.
  • We have introduced a series of first-person articles drawn from membership biographical notes we have been collecting for years. These pieces will showcase compelling personal accounts, written in POWs' own words, of their experiences in the military, as prisoners of a hostile power on foreign soil, from capture through internment to liberation, and of their lives after returning home and taking up the task of putting their lives back together again.

The prisoner of war experience forms an unbroken chain forged in our national consciousness with links of selfless spirit, enduring will and inextinguishable hope. It connects together all those who have answered the call, whether on the farm fields of Concord, in the mud and muck of Korea, in the Red River Valley of Vietnam, across the sands of the Middle East and among the hills of Eastern Europe. We need to insure that this chain remains strong and intact for future generations—not in dusty volumes or in file drawers but in highly accessible online forms. We want visitors to rediscover the courage and resolve -- in the face of deplorable deprivations -- of their fellow citizens who fell captive to enemy forces while fighting for their country.

Please visit us frequently as we work to keep this story alive and remind America of why it matters.

The fact is, today our website's traffic is far broader than our membership. Seventy percent is drawn from the general public. This audience needs to hear our voice as well, to make sure the values that weaned a generation of warriors -- who fought for their country and its legacy not just by force of arms but the strength of their character and the power of their ideals -- are not lost.

Why is it so important to say focused on what we must sometimes pay for freedom? Because we need to not just learn about our forbearers' bravery, we need to learn from them how to be brave. In case some future generation is called upon to pay that price again.

The future is coming and we are changing to meet it. We hope you will enjoy the journey with us and come back regularly. You are always welcome. Non Solum Armis


David Eberly
CEO, American Ex-Prisoners of War

In Their Own Words ...
First in a series of personal accounts by POWs of their last moments of freedom and the personal challenges of capture and captivity. These are stories drawn from biographies POWs either penned themselves or shared orally with family and friends who in turn transcribed them for posterity. The voice and mood of these recollections understandably span a broad range of emotions. But each of these stories gives its own poignent testimony to the courage, resolve and indominable hope of the men and women who, in war, fell captive to enemy forces and were forced — in the face of deplorable deprivations — to fight for their country in totally new and unexpected ways.

Charlie Lyon met the enemy three times: The first time they were actually friendly. Sort of.

The Anthon, Iowa native's B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down in the Italian Alps, near the town of St. Andra, during World War II on December 29, 1944. It was a disastrous event attended by several unusual circumstances.

"We got a direct hit, and I knew we were going down," Lyon recalled. "I was trying to get to the door to bail out when the plane exploded." When Lyon, a waist gunner, regained consciousness he realized he was falling in mid-air and opened his parachute.

His navigator, Arthur Frechette, was not quite so lucky — or maybe he was luckier. He too had exited the plane at the explosion, only with no parachute. Just seconds after regaining consciousness himself, he slammed into the steep side of a snow-covered mountain. He survived his injuries and, in time, went on to a long career teaching mathematics in Connecticut.

Even with that, the crew's luck had not yet run out. Lyon's co-pilot, Sam Wheeler, was blown out of the plane at 25,000 feet, also without a parachute. As he was falling he was struck in the face by a loose object, which he grabbed reflexively and which turned out to be ... a parachute. He quickly donned the captured chute and pulled the ripcord. It had belonged to Frechette. The story was recorded in "The Stars and Stripes" as "one of the more unusual" occurrences of the war, Lyon recalled.

Josef Frener, a local farmer, had gone to look for Lyon three times that day, and finally located him just before dark, stuck in a tree and bleeding from minor injuries. Lyon said Frener saved his life, given the deadly mountain weather. After ensuring Lyon was unarmed, Frener took him to his home, gave him a hearty meal and a featherbed to sleep in. Lyon in turn gave the farmer's three little girls pieces of chocolate from his survival kit.

The next morning Lyon helped Frau Frener churn butter, hoping to garner her favor and thus her aid in getting to nearby Austria where he would be safe. His effort had no effect. Soon German soldiers came to take him to the prison camp at Nuremberg. He'd stayed only three months at Nuremberg when he was sent on a forced march to another camp about 100 miles to the south, near Munich.

On the second meeting hosts and visitors greeted each other as friends. In 1965 Charlie returned to the Alps with his wife Mary Jo and family to the site of the crash where four of his 10-man crew perished and which changed his own life so dramatically.

Charles Lyon at Statue

Charlie and Mary Jo at Memorial dedicated to KIA crewmembers
Lt. Charles Lyon, POW mugshot
Lt. Charles Lyon, Dec. 29, 1944, POW mugshot

“I kept a diary on the march. I kept track of every place I’d slept,” Lyon said. On his return, by following his diary they found every single spot. Also on that trip, the Lyons were befriended by a German, Martin Braun, who knowing English helped them negotiate the countryside. Braun, a former enemy soldier, subsequently made 16 trips to the United States visiting the Lyons.

“He was in anti-aircraft” Lyon said. “I always kidded that he shot my plane down. He said no, they never could hit anything”, Lyon recounted, laughing.

On that trip Lyon also remade the acquaintance of the son and three daughters of Josef Frener, the farmer who had rescued him from a tree the day of the crash. The three girls, by then adults, remembered "the handsome American airman" and his chocolate. Through an interpreter they told Lyon that they were the envy of every girl in school after the bomber was shot down. Their mother made silk dresses for them from the remnants of his parachute.

Touched by that 1965 trip, Lyon's son Tim made an individual pilgrimage to the crash site in 1971 when he graduated from high school. He now runs the family bee-keeping business in Herrick, S.D. a third-generation apiarist.

The third time Charlie and Mary Jo visited, in 1998, they went back to reconnect with old friends.

Not only did the natives of the small Italian village of St. Leonhard grandly host them, they made the Lyons their guests of honor at the dedication of two memorials to American airmen who died nearby while fighting against Italy and its German allies.

One memorial honors four crew members from the 301st Bomb Group who died in the crash of Lyon's plane near St. Leonhard that December day in 1944. The second was dedicated to 12 crew members of a B-24 who died when their aircraft was shot down a couple of miles away near St. Andrea on February 28, 1945.

The dedication was at Brixen, a larger town near the crash sites. Both monuments were blessed there by the Church, a requirement in Italy, then set on footings at their respective rural sites.

Lyon was impressed at the generosity of spirit the people of the area demonstrated. "Maybe it's not unprecedented, to put up monuments to the enemy dead, but they have their own dead," he mused. However, in the span of less than a lifetime Lyon had gone from being a prisoner in enemy territory to being among the first Americans ever entertained by officials of Brixen town since its founding in 901 AD.

And once again Lyon visited the exact spot where his plane had crashed. He and Mary Jo brought home a lot of memories and a new small bag filled with a few dozen pieces of rust-encrusted metal. “It’s just a bunch of junk,” he said, “but to me it’s history.”

(Click here for Charles Lion's full biography posting on this site.)

posted 9/23/17

Statement of Charles Susino, Jr., National Commander/Legislative Officer of the American Ex-Prisoners of War, before the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs, U.S. Senate/U.S. House Of Representatives, Washington, D.C., March 22, 2017.
AXPOW National Commander Charles Susino, Jr.

Chairmen and members of the House and Senate Veteran’s Affairs committee and guests: My name is Charles Susino, Jr., National Commander of the American Ex-Prisoners of War. Thank you for the opportunity to express our comments today.

We are grateful for your committees' efforts in the 114th Congress. However, there is more work to be done to protect our veterans – both on new legislation and improving implementation of legislation already passed.

We welcome VA Secretary David Shulkin. We worked well with him in his position as Under Secretary of Health under Secretary McDonald and expect that relationship to continue in his new position. We understand he will want to develop his agenda for the VA however we want to insure that critical initiatives do not get sidelined with the change in administration.

A VA directive targeted to eliminate veteran’s homelessness has been in effect for several years and results have been positive – an almost 70% decrease in the homeless veteran population. Sadly, however, that means that nearly 40,000 veterans are still on America's streets, without the basic shelter they both need and deserve. The Secretary should report progress and provide a fresh look at proposed actions to achieve this goal. It is a National disgrace that any American veteran has no place to call home.

President Trump has instituted a hiring freeze. There is an exception protocol to receive permission for hiring. We ask the Secretary to be both aggressive and vigilant in requesting authorizations to hire for all open positions that are health care service providers to the veterans. The commitment begun under President Abraham Lincoln cannot be compromised.

Recently, President Trump stated his commitment in supporting our troops. We accept and welcome his commitment and ask for his support in achieving the legislative agendas of the veterans’ service organizations. Actions need to accompany the words to provide the necessary results.

Our legislative agenda has been very consistent year to year. It is based on the earned benefits of the veteran for serving their country. Its center is healthcare and fair compensation to the veteran and their family. This level of consistency helps focus our efforts but there is unfinished business. In 1986, Congress and the President mandated VA health care for veterans with service connected disabilities as well as other special groups of veterans. It included veterans up to WWI. We ask Congress to revisit the special groups and update to include veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Cold War, and our recent conflicts in the Middle East.

A common thread among the veteran service organizations has been improving the performance of the VA. Last year at this time, we publicly stated that we supported Secretary McDonald’s efforts to change the VA culture and reorganize to obtain better access, treatment experience, and understanding for the veteran without compromising efficiencies and accountabilities. The Secretary outlined to you his plan to transform the VA into a high performance organization. It was based on changing the VA culture and reorganizing to obtain better access, treatment experience, and understanding for the veteran without compromising efficiencies and accountabilities.

We are anxious to hear from Secretary Shulkin outlining his initiatives and any changes he determines are required to achieve the goals necessary to best serve our veterans. We realize it is challenging, but the changes must start at the top and get to where the veterans’ experience occurs in the near future.

To achieve the needed results in the VA the rules need to change. The VA needs to broadly adopt management policies to facilitate the culture change required within the VA. There are several Bills that partially address the issue but it must be broad in nature and provide management latitude but require a high level of accountability. Any single Bill on the management bonuses, employee discipline, etc. is insufficient. It must mirror HR policies of select businesses where achievement is high in efficiency and accountability therefore a comprehensive Bill is needed to achieve the desired result.

In addition as I stated last year, DIC has not been increased, aside from COLA, in decades and we ask for your support to correct this longstanding inequity. I draw your attention to the following Bills that are strongly supported by the American Ex-Prisoners of War:

H.R. 104: Helping Homeless Veterans Act of 2017, to make permanent certain programs that assist homeless veterans and other veterans with special needs

H.R. 333: Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act, permitting veterans with a service-connected disability of less than 50% to concurrently receive both retired pay and disability compensation

H.J. Res. 3: Approving the location of a memorial to commemorate and honor the members of the Armed Forces who served on active duty in support of Operation Desert Storm or Operation Desert Shield

H.R. 544: Private Corrado Piccoli Purple Heart Preservation Act, to provide for penalties for the sale of any Purple Heart awarded to a member of the Armed Forces.

H.R. 369: To eliminate the sunset of the Veterans Choice Program, and for other purposes

S. 24: A bill to expand eligibility for hospital care and medical services under section 101 of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to include veterans who are age 75 or older.

During this election year, there have been calls from some candidates to shift VA from its primary role of directly providing care to that of simply paying outside providers in order to control costs and manage service. We ask that Congress not waiver from its responsibility to protect any intrusion that threatens the promises made to those heroes who serve their country. While the VA may be cumbersome and unwieldy, it offers the best care for our veterans in terms of efficiency and quality of service. VA providers have walked the "mile in their shoes" as veterans themselves.

With respect to funding Memorials, it is gratifying to hear the progress of the WWI memorial and others. We encourage Congress to continue to fund public awareness initiatives. It is a critical component of public awareness and education on the hardships of war. As time passes, there are less and less of us that experienced first-hand how life in our country changed in support of a large scale war. While we need to protect our freedoms we also must remember the cost of freedom is very high.

Please eliminate the veterans’ means test for access health care. Should a veteran who worked two or three jobs to provide better for his family later be deprived of healthcare? Each has served his country and earned the same benefits so let us not deprive any deserving veteran of healthcare.

It is most insulting to us when we hear the use of the word entitlements regarding any benefits to the veteran. These are all earned benefits where the veteran has served and sacrificed. Calling them "entitlements" relegates the program to a handout and needs to be eliminated from the language used for veterans.

Thank you for your recent efforts in the last Congress. There were many accomplishments and without your leadership none of it would have been possible. Please continue your tireless work. Thank you for your time and consideration on these matters.

God Bless Our Troops
God Bless America
Thank you

Charles Susino, Jr.
National Commander/Legislative Director
American Ex-Prisoners of War

March 22, 2017
Joint Hearing: Legislative Presentation of the American Ex-Prisoners of War before the House/Senate Veterans Affairs Committees

The Bloody Battle of Iwo Jima and the Timeless Images That It Spawned
Flag-Raising at The Battle of Iwo Jima by California artist Chris Nogues

On February 23, 1945 U.S. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division, in the midst of a fierce and protracted battle, raised a U.S. flag at the crest of Mount Suribachi, the highest peak and most strategic position on Iwo Jima. And then a few hours later they did it again.

Earlier in that year, U.S. military command determined to take control of Iwo Jima in advance of an aerial campaign against the Japanese home islands. A tiny volcanic island located in the Pacific about 700 miles southeast of Japan, Iwo Jima was to be a base for fighter aircraft and an emergency-landing site for bombers.

Marine photographer Louis Lowery recorded the first flag-raising, an act that greatly inspired the American soldiers fighting for control of Suribachi’s slopes.

A short while later second batch of Marines headed up to Suribachi's crest with an even larger flag. On a longer pole.

Joe Rosenthal, an Associated Press photographer, recorded this second raising along with a Marine still-photographer and a motion-picture cameraman.

Rosenthal took three photographs. The first showed five Marines and a Navy corpsman struggling to hoist the heavy pole into place. It became the most reproduced photograph in history and won Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize.

The accompanying motion-picture footage (which can be found on youtube) made clear the picture was shot in real time and not posed. A second photo was similar but less dramatic. The third showed a group of 18 soldiers smiling and waving for the camera.

Many of these men, including three of the six soldiers seen raising the flag in the famous Rosenthal photo, were killed before the Battle for Iwo Jima ended in late March.

The Japanese garrison on the island numbered 22,000 heavily entrenched men. They had been expecting an Allied invasion for months and had constructed an intricate system of underground tunnels, fortifications, and artillery emplacements.

On February 19, following three days of naval and aerial bombardment, the first wave of U.S. Marines stormed onto Iwo Jima. By that first evening, under incessant mortar fire, 30,000 U.S. Marines had established a solid beachhead.

During the next few days, the Marines advanced in the face of heavy artillery fire and suicidal charges from Japanese infantry.

On February 23, they reached the crest of 550-foot Mount Suribachi, and the next day the slopes of the extinct volcano were secured.

By March 3, U.S. forces controlled all three airfields on the island, and on March 26 the last Japanese defenders on Iwo Jima were wiped out.

Only 200 of the original 22,000 Japanese garrison were captured alive. More than 6,000 Americans died taking Iwo Jima, with some 17,000 wounded.

posted 3/5/17

Sixty-third Annual Veterans Day National Ceremony — Arlington, Nov. 11.
Click for Photo Album

Solemn Honor From Gallant Steeds

Horses have been an integral part of military history for thousands of years, in and out of battle. For the most part, many of these practices have been phased out. (Although it should be noted that for the first time since WWII and the cessation of the Cavalry, at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom American soldiers on horses were inserted into the mountains of Northern Afghanistan.)

However, one of the most familiar and compelling rituals involving horses endures: their visually haunting participation in a Full Military Honors funeral. The elegant precision, memorable beauty and professional majesty of these horse units deserve further investigation.

Most prominent are the members of the Caisson platoon of the 3d United States Infantry "The Old Guard." Located at Joint Base Myer/Henderson Hall (Ft. Myer), The Old Guard is a remarkable volunteer unit, the Army’s oldest infantry regiment, dating to 1784. It is responsible for military ceremonies at The White House, the Pentagon and at national memorials; maintains the 24/7 vigil at the Tomb of the Unknowns; and serves as mounted escort for funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.

Utilization of the Caisson Platoon is an honor reserved for officers of the U.S. military who are eligible for burial or inurnment] The horses are saddle-broken when received, but the soldiers are infantrymen, not usually trained horsemen; both undergo rigorous training.

A McClellan saddle is used, and both rider and horse must maintain erect posture and high professional standards. The soldiers learn to prepare and clean the saddle, stall and horse, shine 314 pieces of brass each morning, and maintain unique ceremonial tack and harness.

Each horse gets a daily pre-dawn shower: some love it, some merely tolerate it, and some consider it a time to “horse around.” The soldier dries, grooms and prepares his horse to be hitched up to the caisson, taking several hours (starting at 0400 hours). The Army has a designation of Caisson Soldiers with the Additional Skill Identifier D2 - Army Horseman. The unit is relatively self-supporting and even trains soldiers as farriers (skilled combination of a blacksmith and part veterinarian for all those equine hoof problems). Full vet facilities are available close-by.

Soldiers enjoy long but apparently fulfilling hours in their weekly alternating stints, taking care of the horses and the equipment, and ceremonial duties. Most horses live at Ft. Myer but some rest during off-weeks at nearby Ft. Belvoir. The platoon is comprised of 4 riding teams, roughly 50 service men and women, and about 60 horses, all observed by a watchful stable-resident black tabby cat called Rihanna.

The 5 black caissons, built in 1918, and used for 75mm cannons, were originally equipped with ammunition chests, spare wheels, and tools. Today these have been removed and replaced with the flat deck on which the casket rests. For cremains, the urn may be placed in an elevated niche at the casket back which is covered by the flag. For casket security, they are currently replacing brass tabs; the paint and other accoutrements are kept immaculate.

The two on-duty teams at any given time consist of seven horses, six of whom pull the caisson. Horses, matched gray (or “white”) or black (or dark brown), used to be purchased or bred by the Army, but now come through donations (e.g., 7 elegant Spanish Riding Stable Lipizzaners were given to the Army in 1981 by Temple Smith, Jr. of IL). Each team has one Section Horse; two Lead Horses (second most experienced); Two Swing Horses (least experienced, in the middle); and Two Wheel Horses (most experienced, nearest the caisson, acting as brakes, (e.g., Lee and Grant tried to stop a runaway caisson and were injured some years ago).

All seven are saddled, but only the three on the left side and the Section Horse (which is the guide horse) are ridden. In war, the three without mounts would have held supplies, feed or were intended as replacements. The horses may mischievously roll their eyes or nip at one another while being prepared, but once hooked up and work starts, they are categorically all business. One of the oldest and most evocative of military traditions in a full honor funeral is that of the rider less, caparisoned (“cap” or ornamented horse).

It is said that this dates back to the time of Genghis Khan, the saddle being empty and the rider’s boots reversed in the stirrups, signifying that the service member would never ride again (the ancient ceremony also involved sacrificing the horse for burial alongside the deceased warrior). The riderless horse is now authorized for Army and Marines burials for those of the rank of COL and above. A service member escort carries the deceased’s colors with the unit.

Riderless horses participated in the funerals of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, according to various histories and The Washington Post in February 2016. Other sources note that Lincoln was the first to have a caparisoned horse, although Tobias Lear, Washington’s personal secretary recorded that Washington’s horse was part of his funeral. Similarly, Zachary Taylor’s personal horse, Old Whitey, was in his funeral procession.

Perhaps the best known equine member of the Caisson Platoon of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) was the coal black Morgan-American Quarter Horse Cross named for GEN John J. (Black Jack) Pershing. Foaled in KS, January 19, 1947, he was said to be “sleek, beautiful, fiery and sometimes hard to manage”.

He arrived as a 6-year old at Ft. Myer from the Ft. Reno, OK cavalry remount station. He was the last of the Quartermaster-issue horses branded with the U.S. Army brand on his left shoulder and his Army serial number 2V56 on the left side of his neck. Black Jack served in more than a thousand funerals (mostly at Arlington), but is perhaps best known as the compelling rider-less horse at state funerals including John F. Kennedy (1963), Herbert Hoover (1964), Lyndon B. Johnson (1973), and General Douglas MacArthur (1964).

The horse unit and caisson were also used for Washington portions of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt funeral in 1945, and the Dwight David Eisenhower funeral in March 1969.

For the mourning, assassination-stunned nation watching the Kennedy funeral on TV, Black Jack and his remarkable spirit would symbolize the event’s aura. According to an article by a Pentagram reporter, on the day of that funeral, his handler (who had been with him in 70 funerals), said he was particularly unruly and nearly uncontrollable. Spooked by a loud noise as a caisson wheel snagged on a large steel grate as they passed the Treasury Department, the horse also stepped on the handler’s foot at St. Matthews Cathedral, and remained agitated throughout the procession.

One of his greatest admirers was Jacqueline Kennedy, who asked the Secretary of the Army if she could purchase him when he retired. Her request was acknowledged; she later received his caparison, which included his saddle, bridle, saddle blanket, sword, boots and spurs. However, when not working, the horse was known in the barn as a “ham,” putting on a show when a child or camera was present. Thousands swarmed to his fan club and even baked him his favorite butter pecan birthday cakes, fed him sugar cubes and generally fussed over him to his delight. Richard Nixon sent him a birthday card.

He retired in 1973, his health deteriorating. Following his death in February 1976, some 400 people attended the funeral. His cremains were carried on the caisson he had led so many times. He was buried with Full Military Honors on Summerall Field, a parade site usually reserved for senior retirements, near the flagpole, with a special horseshoe configuration of shrubs and a bas-relief headstone. Several books were written about him including Robert Knuckle’s Black Jack: Americans Famous Riderless Horse (2002).

The riderless horse tapped for Ronald Reagan’s funeral in June 2004 was Sergeant York, a black 15-hands Standardbred gelding with bright eyes and a roached mane (making him look a bit like Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, apologies to Ron Howard).

He started out life with the insipid name of Allaboard Jules who “tried hard” but had had a rather lackluster career until 1996 (in 3 years, won 5 of 23 starts) at Freehold Raceway in NJ. Donated to the Army in 1997, he had an undeniably engaging personality, but at the first, he was said to be “more Gomer Pyle than George Patton.”

Since he was stabled with other horses with historically relevant names such as the two brothers Grant and Lee, who had already made themselves known for excellence, the Old Guard soldiers gave Jules a much more suitable name (for the WWI hero Sgt. Alvin C. York). The skinny new arrival needed to bulk up a bit. In describing his stable behavior, it was said that whenever there were visitors, he would stick his head into the aisle and shake it in circles to get attention for a pat.

His initial goofiness morphed into a more enduring gentle charm, although he (like many of his stablemates), continued to mug for the cameras. He came to love his new home where he was decidedly the “king”, even in retirement; and developed into a master of all responsibilities from pulling marriage carriages to pageants and parades, and was never distracted. He became more and more professional in demeanor and accepted all responsibilities with grace and class. See

Of more recent horses, Freedom is a 12 year old cream-colored Quarter Horse gelding at 15.2 hands, acquired in 2010 as a therapeutic riding horse at the Ft. Belvoir Training Facility. He had to be retired from caisson duty when he was diagnosed with uveal cysts of his eye; put up for adoption, he is now living with 27 year old Jenna Sears in King George County, VA, where he will be used for casual trail riding.

Kennedy is a 15-year old black Standardbred gelding at 14.3 hands. Purchased after retiring from racing and groomed to be a caisson horse, he impressed all who encountered him with his professionalism and elegance as the riderless horse. However, in time, Kennedy developed the habit of kicking soldiers as well as the occasional car tire, so he was retired from service and put up for adoption.

An article in The Washington Post on July 12, 2016 noted that Kennedy had just been adopted by a former caisson soldier, Carroll Urzendowski, at Ft. Polk, LA., whose family includes his wife, 3 and 4 year old kids, and an 85 acre ranch in TX. Urzendowski described Kennedy as “interesting: Let’s say he will take advantage of his handler if the handler allows him to .... It’s like raising a child." He intends to stop the hoof pawing business by getting Kennedy to trust him again and giving him something else to think about.

Quincy is an 11 year-old black Quarter Horse gelding. He briefly worked in the caisson group, and is known for being approachable and loving with visitors, particularly children. In the funeral processions, Quincy usually walked at the front or in the middle position. Articles featuring Quincy note that he seems to know when someone is praising him, to which he responds by nodding, a gesture that is similar to what he gives when they play music in the barn. His stall was next to Kennedy’s.

Quincy developed sore feet (diagnosed as navicular disease, requiring a special therapeutic shoe and medications), was retired and made available for adoption. The Post’s July piece noted that Quincy had just been adopted by Sean Sutton and Kristen Whittaker, a veteran and his wife with a 7 and a 10 year old at Whit Acres Farm in MA. Quincy’s new digs include automatic fly spraying in summer, heated barn in winter, a padded stall and 7 other permanent horse residents and 5 or more boarders receiving veterinary care.

In the long list of larger-than-life Arlington military horses, Klinger is unique. A black Percheron Morgan Cross Breed with a white star on his forehead, Klinger weighs 1,400 pounds and stands 16 hands high. He was born on a farm in Lamar, IA and worked there until he was 3 years old when he was donated to the Caisson Platoon (March 2003).

In 2010, Betsy Beard [who lost her only son Army Specialist Bradley S. Beard in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004] of the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) lovingly wrote a fictionalized version of his story, Klinger: A Story of Honor and Hope (ISBN #978-0-578-05431-5, published by TAPS with the help of the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation).

She made special note of the extraordinary bond that had developed between this special horse and the children and mentors of the TAPS Good Grief Camp who had begun to visit the stables at Ft. Myer during the annual TAPS seminar. (The book is suitable for both children and adults, is beautifully illustrated by Shelley Johannes, and may be purchased on the secondary market).

In describing the award winning small book, Deborah Mullen, wife of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ADM Mike Mullen (who gave a copy of the book to England’s Queen Elizabeth II), said: “Klinger is a beautiful touching story, and written so simply, yet managing to capture the sadness, the pride, the honor – and more. Every American should read this book.”

Klinger, one of the largest of the horses, was also one of the most gentle and soon became a favorite. Klinger has served as the Wheel Horse closest to the caisson and as the Section Horse, leading the others through the cemetery. Inducted in 2012 to the Equus Foundation Horse Stars Hall of Fame, Klinger has become a celebrity around Washington, having participated in more than 5,000 burial ceremonies, led Presidential Inaugural Parades, and has been the repeated guest of honor at the Washington International Horse Show Kids Day which established the Klinger Award in 2012.

The sometimes mischievous Klinger (many will remember the favorite actor Jamie Farr’s Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger, of M*A*S*H) is an easy-going giant who loves visitors and sometimes lets soldiers sit on him when he is lying down. Klinger patiently worked with the wounded warriors undergoing Equine Assisted Psychotherapy Program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

It is worth mentioning that Arlington National Cemetery is not the only facility that reveres and well uses their equine soldiers…one perfect recent collateral example was the horse who drew the caisson at the September 2015 Andersonville POW Museum and Cemetery burial ceremony for 13,000 POWS. The earnest hard working white horse, named Traveler, was purchased in Georgia from the Amish in Ohio who had trained him. According to Charles Barr, Cemetery Administrator in correspondence with Florida’s Jim “Moe” Moyer of The Ride Home, Traveler worked the funeral in association with the Hall County Sheriff’s Department Honor Guard team, pulling the caisson on which rested the pine casket containing child-made individual 13,000 stars.

When an Army caisson horse is retired from caisson duty, and if no other equestrian military units need his services, he may go on the literally greener pastures, as part of the adoption process. The Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office, in association with the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment’s Caisson Horse Adoption program ensure that the horses are all placed for free in good homes and are well cared for in retirement from military service. This is not an insubstantial commitment for the adopter.

The program publishes horses ready for retirement to a Website, identifies potential adopters, and selects the best candidate. The specifics of the Caisson Horse Adoption Program is governed by October 14, 2014, The Old Guard Regimental Policy Letter #17 – Caisson Horse Adoption. Details are found at Caisson Horse Adoption Application to be sent to

In the most recent cases of Kennedy and Quincy, the press became involved, thousands of individuals posted messages, and 25 families applied for each horse showing a willingness to accept quite a responsibility. A vigorous vetting process is undertaken including site visits after review of the extensive questionnaire responses.

These huge, valiant proficient four-legged soldiers are known as consummate professionals when at work; they hold heads high, remain unperturbed (by flapping flags, cannons and planes, guns, kids, noise and sundry frights), are calm and motionless for hours and diligently perfect the routine of 8 funerals a day.

They must be unexcitable but alert, and have steady nerves. They are bright, clever, occasionally moody, beautiful and often funny, and tend to be playful or mischievous when bored...well rounded soldiers who honor others with their expert precision and presence.

The bonds between these horses, each other and their human associates are extraordinary.

There is much written about the noble horse, but two adages seem appropriate in this context: An old Yiddish proverb states: “The wagon rests in winter; the sleigh in summer; the horse never”; and an old Arabian proverb similarly notes: “The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears.”

posted 9/14/16